Flying into tricky situations
  • Imagine sweat running down your face and into your eyes as you manoeuvre a helicopter in forty-five-degree celsius. It’s difficult to stay focused, and you know the heat is compromising both yourself and the helicopter performance. 
  • Picture the weather changing suddenly and your visibility as a pilot becomes increasingly limited. It’s scary. You begin to weigh up safety compared with accomplishing the flying programme you set out to do.

       These are but two of the many ‘uncomfortable’ situations that Dean Yeoman has faced as a helicopter pilot in Southern Africa — numerous times when life on the mission field begins to unravel and dependence on God becomes the ‘new normal’.
Last-minute permits, challenges dealing with officials, bad weather, and getting to hard-to-reach places have all been a part of Dean’s mission service as a pilot.
He has stories of obtaining flight permits at the eleventh hour. “We have sometimes been sitting there on the helipad at international departure, fuelled up and ready to, go before we finally get our permit number and the control tower can release us.” It means having faith that the paperwork will come through, even as they sit in the helicopter, preparing to depart.  When in Africa, Dean, with Mercy Air, transports Christian medical, dental, optometrist and education teams to hard to reach settlements, from the far reaches of the Zambesi delta to the high mountains of Lesotho.
“In the rainy season, you’ve got thunderstorm activity that builds up in the afternoons. You’ve got weather deteriorating.” Dean can land the helicopter on a small patch and wait out the weather system. But, of course, he has teams waiting for him to pick them up.
“I had a situation last year where I got my first team out. The weather was deteriorating in the afternoon, and I was not able to get back to pick up the other team. The thunderstorms were nasty, the cloud base was low, and the rain was heavy.” He made the hard decision to leave picking them up until the next day. “I felt bad about that. They weren’t prepared for staying overnight. They didn’t have any extra clothing or food. It was a miserable night for them. Thankfully, some local school teachers gave them shelter and a meal, but they were very happy to see me the next morning!”
Times get uncomfortable for both those who are serving and those being served. Dean recalls an experience where fuel was promised by an agency, but it didn’t arrive at its destination – a remote village in the mountains. The truck loaded with fuel broke down and was unable to get there. The programme in several villages was now in jeopardy because, without the helicopter, they couldn’t get the teams in. “The nurses hated going by horse,” Dean says, ” because they weren’t confident horse riders. There were narrow tracks winding their way along the sides of the steep mountains and they were fearful of it. They appreciated getting in the helicopter, flying six minutes to the destination, and being able to do a day’s work and then fly home again. This instead of six hours each way on horseback and three days away.”
Obtaining the fuel is crucial for the work to continue. So, an expensive decision was made to fly the fuel into the mountains. The locals had an expectation of the team coming and it was important for ongoing credibility that they got there. “You don’t want to disappoint, and I think that’s one of the things that makes you uncomfortable — if everybody has made so much effort, and they spend a lot of time getting the outreach planned, then it almost doesn’t happen. You feel uncomfortable, concerned and sad for those people who have tried hard and will potentially miss out. This time I was very fortunate that at the last minute, it all worked out. The medical team we transported was delighted with the outcome.”

–Fiona Murray

Pray for safe outcomes in these flights as pilots such as Dean fly off-grid for the Kingdom.